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Why Starbucks Reserve is the New Black

Fashion designers on top of trends wear black; wealthy clients with the most savings take the black cards; coffee drinkers sip the most exclusive coffees have the black cups.

After I received the topic for this week’s blog, I was nervous on what brand I should write, so I asked around. Everyone told me “of course Starbucks” or “that star coffee you are obsessed with” or “that black cup of coffee you always have in hand”. Therefore, I decided to reveal what I have been drinking throughout the whole time—Starbucks Reserve—“the black cup”, “the star” and “the black card I am proud of”.


Everybody knows Starbucks, but not many people know Starbucks Reserve—the high-end version of Starbucks. Here comes its story: Each year, Starbucks send out coffee masters and agronomists to travel around the global searching for the rarest and one-of-a-kind coffee beans. They taste more than 250,000 cups at the Reserve Roastery in Seattle each year, select only a few unique coffee beans, roast them in small batches, then deliver exclusively to Starbucks Reserve Stores and their “black card” holders. All of their special roasted coffees are only available in limited supply and they come available only in two or three kinds each month.


Uniqueness is what they are selling. And exclusiveness is what I am buying for.

Imagine this. A typical Monday in New York. Everyone is wearing his or her black suits rushing to work, walking pass by each other on the streets. Most people are carrying red or silver coffee mugs or holding white Starbucks cups. None of them look different from each other. None of them attracts your attention. But you, are holding a black cup with a golden star and capital letter R printed on the cup. Your coffee looks different. Your coffee diffuses unique aroma. You are different.

Starbucks coffee is dull; it’s always Pike, or some Dark blend. Reserve is not; it’s always varying. Jamaican Blue Mountain for a week then Nicaragua Maracaturra for a week. You are still an office lady, but you are always special, from inside to outside.


With Starbucks Reserve, your ergonomic need in coffee and its quality is satisfied; more importantly, your identity has changed. Reserve really played on the affordable luxury concept not only to raise the sipping quality, but also to make you stand out, silently.

Besides unique packaging and exclusive coffee bean qualities, Reserve uses another two tactics to keep its marketing successful. One is the special Reserve card—“the black card”, and the other is subscription.

Reserve card is different from the usual Starbucks card and cannot be found nor purchased easily. It’s another exclusiveness trick they have played. What comes with the black card is the self-identity and the feeling of connection with the reserve community.


If we take the emotional benefits out of the Reserve card, it is simply a cash card where customers can only use at Starbucks. To be able to have it functioned, customers must load and reload money into the card. What can a money loaded card do? Of course it leads to spending. Customers have to swipe, to spend from this card to enjoy the emotional and social benefits.

To tap on Behavioral Economics, this proves the concept of status quo bias. Reserve cardholders on status quo identify themselves as coffee lovers in the Reserve community. Once they obtain this self-identity, their default coffee shop will be Starbucks Reserve, default coffee will be Reserve coffee and default connection will be with Starbucks Reserve. From time to time, they will not “notice” how many times and how much money they spend extra on coffee but instead, they will focus on the default social and emotional feelings that Reserve community provides.

The other marketing tactic Reserve uses is the online subscription. As a status quo behavior, reserve subscribers will be able to know what unique coffee is coming available one to two weeks before it is available in Reserve stores. Reserve will send out newsletters telling stories of each coffee bean and its uniqueness to subscribers. Usually at this time, Starbucks Reserve will also post photos and short articles of the new coffee beans on Instagram, its own website and the Pike blog. People in the Reserve community will start to repost and get excited for the new coffee to come available. This tactic creates strong engagements and traffics just like how Apple starts to create traffic before new IPhones come available.

One improvement they could have done is that their online account for each subscriber is not personalized enough. For Reserve customers who have spent much more than typical Starbucks account holder, I feel that they demand more customized support and detailed information on Reserve coffee and news.


And guess what! I am actually sitting in a Reserve store to compose this blog.


Declaration: Photos are all taken by myself; if you would like to use them, please ask me.


2 thoughts on “Why Starbucks Reserve is the New Black

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